A Father, Puzzle

Sibylle Lacan

Artwork by Jensine Eckwall

This book is not a novel or an embellished (auto)biography. It does not contain an ounce of fiction. No invented detail has been placed therein with the aim of imparting piquancy to the tale or padding out the text. My purpose has been otherwise: to let rise to the surface of my memory everything important—be it deeply tragic or deeply comic—that occurred between my father and me. To speak not of the man in general, and even less of psychoanalysis, but of the father Jacques Lacan was for me. It is a purely subjective work, based on my recollections of the time and a vision of things that I have arrived at today.

I wrote the first page one night in August 1991, at one go. It is thus, in a certain sense, the most “perfect.” All my life, I have written this way, spontaneously, impulsively, and without subsequent corrections. For me, this was a matter of principle. Sadly, this is only possible with extremely short texts, and in the present case, I have had to rework a great deal: to correct, to seek the right word, to refine the story as much as possible. This, without mentioning the exhausting effort of remembering.

The subtitle puzzle derives from the fact that this text was not written in a consistent manner. In the midst of disorder, I have written what I would call “bursts,” or rather, I have followed their imperious unveiling in my memory, resolving—because to do otherwise would have been impossible—against arranging them until the end. I have written, so to speak, “blindly,” without any precise design, whether in the formal sense, or as forethought; without knowing which scene, which image, I would wind up with once the bursts, the morsels, the pieces were assembled.

In any case, I should like to give here to the uninitiated reader a rough outline of my family topography. Blondin is my mother’s maiden name, which she would take back when she divorced my father. Mother was the first wife of Jacques Lacan, my father. She had three children by him: Caroline, Thibaut, and me. Bataille is the name of my father’s second wife. They had a daughter together, Judith, who bore the name of the Bataille family because neither of her parents had divorced their respective spouses when she came into the world. Miller is the name Judith will take after her marriage to Jacques-Alain Miller.

As concerns place, I believe it is clear from the text that Rue Jadin designates the apartment where my sister, my brother, and I lived with our mother until we moved away on reaching adulthood. As regards Rue de Lille, who doesn’t now know that Doctor Lacan’s consultations were held at Rue de Lille number 5 in Paris?


When I was born, my father was no longer there. I could even say that when I was conceived, he was already elsewhere, he no longer lived with my mother. A meeting in the country between husband and wife, even though everything was already ended, marks the origin of my birth. I am the fruit of despair; some will say of desire, but I do not believe them.

Why then do I feel the need to speak of my father now when it is my mother whom I loved and continue to love after her death, after their deaths?

Affirmation of my parentage, snobbery—I am Lacan’s daughter—or to defend the clan of the Blondin-Lacans against that of the Bataille-Millers?

Whichever it may be, my sister, now gone, my older brother, and I are the only ones who bear the name Lacan. And that is likely what this is all about.


In my memories, I didn’t meet my father until after the war (I was born at the end of 1940). I have no sense of what happened, I never questioned my mother about the subject. Probably he “passed through.” But in my reality, it was my mother who was there, no one else. An absence among others, it was never otherwise. We knew we had a father, but fathers were not there, apparently. For us, Mother was everything: love, security, authority.

An image of the period that remains fixed in my memory, as though I’d preserved it in a photograph, is the silhouette of my father in the doorway, one Thursday when he’d come to see us: immense, swathed in a vast overcoat, he was there, appearing burdened already by who knows what weariness. A custom had been established: he would come to Rue Jadin once a week for lunch.

He called my mother “vous” and addressed me as “ma chère.” My mother, when she spoke of him, would say “Lacan.”

She had counseled us then, at the beginning of the school year, when we had to fill out the ritual questionnaire, to write down the word “Doctor” in the blank asking for Father’s profession. In those days, psychoanalysis was hardly distinguished from charlatanism.


It was in Noirmoutier, where we would regularly spend our “long vacation,” that “the abnormal” glided into our lives. Our young, well-intentioned friends revealed to us that our parents were divorced, and for that reason, Mother would be sent to hell (!). I don’t know which of these disclosures hit me harder. At naptime my brother and I held a long consultation.


The years continued to unwind. Mother filled every role. We were “good,” intelligent, and worked hard in class. She was proud of us, but was waiting for us to grow up. Dread followed upon the war: it would accompany the three of us until adulthood.

Father, for our birthdays, would give us superb gifts (I believe it took me far too long to understand it was not he who had picked them out).


In a timeless time, in an indeterminate space—though I did learn from my brother, some years back, that it was not something I merely dreamt—an extraordinary thing took place. Childhood, Brittany: Thibaut, my father, and I. What were we doing there with my father? Where was my mother? Why was Caroline—in my recollection—not there? The three of us were visiting a castle. Thibaut was racing down the spiral stairway of a tower. Where am I situated, exactly, with respect to him? And my father? But I see this: At a bend, to the right, is an opening that gives directly onto the emptiness, a door without a ledge or parapet. Thibaut, in his boyish avidity, is swallowed by it whole. My father catches him by his clothes. A miracle!

Second scene: We meet up with Mother and I tell her, upset, how Thibaut has skirted death. No shouting, no weeping, no apparent emotion. I do not understand. I have never understood. My brother has retained no tragic memory of this event. My father never spoke of it again. Mother, who did not react in the moment, never again brought up that frightful drama, which had been so nearly avoided.

Formentera is the name of the island that I have selected as the second place, as a vacation place: FORT M’ENTERRA.


Life at home was ruled by the law of age. In that way, Mother reproduced what she had lived through in childhood—she was, like me, the youngest—and what she considered “normal,” inevitable, the way things should be, in other words. Above all of us was Caroline, four years older than I (though the distance seemed greater). She possessed all the power . . . and all the privileges. Very early, she became a woman, tall, with long, thick hair of a blond color unusual in our region, flourishing like a Renoir (I have always been the smallest in my class, a blend of femininity and of failed boyishness), beautiful in the eyes of all (I was never anything but “cute”), remarkably gifted and intelligent (first prize all her life, head of the class, a brilliant university career—I was a good student, but always worked at it); a goddess incarnate, in a word, she lived in a world apart, closer to Mother’s than to ours.


My mother had to go back to work after finding herself on her own. For a long time, she worked alongside her brother as an anesthesiologist. Later, when a degree was required to fulfill this function, she searched desperately for another job. For a while she designed patterns for scarves or advertisements (as a young girl, she was passionately devoted to painting), but her “manner” was unsuited to the tenor of the times, and she had to give it up. In the same way, she had to give up her “position” as a saleswoman in a modest boutique after only a few days: commerce inspired a phobia in her. Soon she gave up trying. Mother was no longer young, and I perceived this was a kind of humiliation for her. From then on she had to manage with nothing apart from my father’s alimony payments, which were rather meager and failed notably to grow in concert with the cost of living. This was a kind of “forgetfulness” on my father’s part, and as mother was not the sort to beg for money, her income barely budged. And yet we were still there, my brother and I—Caroline had already married, or else was on the point of doing so.

For this reason, we lived with the strictest economy—this proved an excellent education for the “children,” but a risky and far from amusing exercise for a woman of mature age for whom the barest necessities, little by little, became unjustifiable luxuries.

Years later, when I had already left Rue Jadin for the last time, I felt the urge to bring up this matter of money with my mother, and I asked her flat out how much Father gave her every month: it was a negligible sum, and since it was his duty, I pressed her to have him allocate her a greater share. Mother refused brusquely. That was beyond her. I saw my father rather often in those days and I decided, on my own initiative, to broach the subject with him. The result was a veritable success: he immediately doubled Mother’s payment.

(Later on, I tried again to have the amount “brought up to date.” In vain. My father was getting old, and with the years, his irrational attachment to money grew more pronounced.)


My father’s funeral was doubly sinister. First, I was burying him, and naturally I would have liked the people who had cared for him to be there. Profiting from my stupor, from my brother’s apathy and from her privileged status, Judith opted, entirely on her own, for a “small funeral” for intimate friends and family, for that funeral-abduction which was only announced in the press after the fact and where, moreover, I was subjected to the presence of all those little acolytes from L’École de la cause whose hands I refused to take. Judith and Jacques-Alain Miller had organized everything. The “clan” was all there, and Thibaut and I played the role of undesirables (only Marianne Merleau-Ponty came to embrace me). “Traitors, all of them,” I thought.

The postmortem appropriation of Lacan, of our father, had begun. But how should a person react in the midst of mourning, forced to deal with calculating careerists? It all happened too fast. Later, I would oppose Judith—more and more, with the passage of years—whenever I thought it necessary, legitimate, but at the time, my mind was elsewhere. The day after the burial, I left for Vienna.

translated from the French by Adrian Nathan West